New children's cancer appeal to help ease "indescribable pain" for Gloucestershire families
By Laura Enfield | 1st March 2023
When Julie Kent lost her three-year-old daughter Emily to cancer she pushed the "indescribable pain" down and started fundraising.
Mental health support was almost non-existent back in 1995 and she coped by focusing on how she could help others.
Three decades later she has raised thousands of pounds for charity but the pain is as raw as ever.
So she has created a new children's cancer appeal to ensure other Gloucestershire families going through their darkest hour get the emotional support they need.
Emily's Gift is being launched on March 10, on what would have been her daughter's 31st birthday, with the mission of raising £500,000 in one year.
The money will fund a psychologist to help children having cancer treatment at the Emily Kent Unit at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital and their families.
Julie said: "The pain of a childhood cancer diagnosis is indescribable. Losing Emily at the age of three to a brain tumour was utterly devastating.
"But in those days people didn't even think about mental health. We didn't talk about it. We just got on with it.
"When she died we immediately got on a fundraising treadmill and raised money for equipment at the hospital so children could be scanned quicker when undergoing chemotherapy.
"That snowballed into us forming the Emily Kent Charitable Trust.
"I definitely didn't deal with what had happened and it didn't really hit me until about 17 years later when my dad died.
"If you let it out the pain all comes back and that is horrible and that's why I locked it away- because I didn't want to get upset. But you have to try and deal with it."
Emily, a "quiet, gentle little girl" was Julie and her husband Bernard's first child. She started having trouble walking aged two and was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma in the back of her brain. An operation and chemotherapy followed but after six months of treatment she died on June 15, 1995 with Julie and Bernard by her side.
Since then the couple have devoted all of their efforts to raising money for Gloucestershire's young cancer patients.
There are currently more than 30 children receiving cancer treatment in the Gloucester paediatric oncology unit setup in Emily's memory and Julie said they desperately need more support.
"The parents need help to know how to talk to their children," she said. "They don't want to lie to them.
"And the parents themselves are struggling and then the siblings are sometimes ignored but are also worried their brother or sister is going to die.
"They need someone to talk to as a whole family unit."
Working under the umbrella of the Pied Piper Charity, the funds raised by Emily's Gift will secure the psychologist post for 10 years.
Dr Christina Parfitt, consultant paediatric oncologist, Emily Kent Unit, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital said the new role will provide an "integral part" of children's care.
"Receiving a diagnosis of cancer and navigating the treatment pathway can be emotionally distressing for the entire family."
"A psychologist provides essential support, helping families to understand the impact of a cancer diagnosis and working with them to manage challenges."
The appeal is not only a massive challenge but will be Julie's "swan song" as she plans to retire from large-scale fundraising when it ends in March 2024.
She is currently vice chair at The Pied Piper Appeal, chairman at Cheltenham Open Door, trustee at Goals Beyond Grass and assistant warden at The Honourable Company of Gloucestershire. She has also raised money for CLIC Sargent, Teenage Cancer Trust and Breast Cancer and in 2020 was awarded an MBE for her services to charities.
"People laugh when I say I'm stopping but I've been fundraising for 30 years and doing this appeal will feel like I have completed the circle," said Julie.
"I set the challenge of half a million pounds in a year as we need the psychologist to start now.
"There are currently two little boys having treatment for leukaemia in the unit which lasts three years and I want them to benefit from this now- not in four years time.
"That amount means we can employ a top psychologist who knows their job is secure and the children and families will get the continuity they need and help right through remission."
Julie said her family coped with Emily's death by creating something positive that helps others but she has found it hard reliving their tragedy as part of the appeal.
"Because it's my personal story, I think people are more willing to give but I know that means I'm going to take the journey again this year," she said.
"I've sort of locked it away a bit so that it's going to be emotional and very hard but I've always wanted to make something good come out of it and helping others makes me feel better about losing my own child."
The official launch event is not until next week but the appeal has already hit 20% of its target thanks to pledges totalling £100,000 from 50 people and businesses in Gloucestershire
Individuals, businesses and organisations are being encouraged to join the challenge and raise £2,000 over the next 12 months for the appeal.
For more information visit www.emilysgift.co.uk
Or to donate visit www.justgiving.com/page/emilysgift
The launch event will take place on March 10, 6-7.30pm at The Music Works, Gloucester.
It is free to attend but tickets must be booked via Eventbrite by March 3.
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